Monday, January 21, 2013

A generically good burger (Lure Fishbar)

Lure burger

As I sat down to right this post, I had one of those "who the hell am I?" moments. I realized I haven't had a legit burger in weeks, and I haven't written about one since I had that oh-so-sensual encounter with In-N-Out months ago. As someone who used to live, sleep, and breathe burgers - this just feels weird. Anyway, I was watching the Oprah interview of Lance Armstrong today (because obviously Oprah's expertise of bike racing comes in as only a close second to her knowledge of mac and cheese), and something dawned on me - Lance ruined the sport of cycling just as gimmicky fusion burgers topped with everything from foie gras to chocolate has ruined the classic burger. Every burger we eat nowadays, you expect it to be doped to the gills with some ass-hat stupid combination of toppings. Everything not covered in a mountain of crap is instantaneously boring. Now I'm not saying there isn't a place for candied bacon on a burger (I'd be the last person to tell you otherwise), but in no way should that define how good a burger is. A good burger should be able to stand on its own: meat, bread, and optionally cheese... nothing else.

Like I said, people want to buy into these ass-clown gimmicks. I know I did. Just like people wanted to believe some dude could beat up on cancer and then come back with one testicle to waffle-stomp a bunch of other dudes in spandex (no matter how much you want to argue the aerodynamics of a full set of nuts vs. a single nut), adding random shit on top of burgers isn't normal. Sure it might not taste like absolute asshole, but that doesn't mean it's done the right way. The moment you mask the unadulterated flavor of beef with a cranberry-infused garlic aioli, you've missed the point. Lure Bar gets this. When every other brunch joint is pushing their mozzarella stick covered freak-burgers, all they're going to pimp is a plain cheeseburger... an absolutely spectacular specimen of a cheeseburger.

Lure burger

Oh hello there [/George Takei voice]. If you're uncomfortably excited, it's okay. On visuals alone, Lure Fishbar deserves some slow clapping. A proportionally balanced combination of a semi-sweet brioche and a 6 ounce block of Pat LaFrieda blend bound together with a slice of sharp cheddar glistening with meat "love juice" looks its weight in gold. This is a veritably beautiful burger. An Audrey Hepburn looking burger. This is the type you would take home to your mother because it's so fucking classy you don't even understand why you're smitten with someone you just met.

Pinkish insides

Now Lure Fishbar saw all that they had made, and indeed, it was very good! There's a certain art to executing a proper burger. Step one, buy the right bread. Check... their brioche was porous, soft yet crusty, and had a subtle hint of buttery sweet richness. Step two, pick the right meat. Check... pretty hard to go wrong with the Pat LaFrieda blend. Step three, don't fuck it up. Good job Fishbar, all three of these - you did. See that patty? See how the fringe isn't grey? Getting a medium-rare correct is probably harder than it seems - cook to 135 Fahrenheit and let it sit for 5 mins on carryover heat. Except 90% of places either leave me with a mush that's cold in the center or a blob reminiscent of grey matter. Fishbar killed it. Then they put cheese on it, which is always the correct thing to do (coming from someone who's lactose intolerant). If you've ever played Dynasty Warriors, this is like a 150+ hit combo success with a special move to finish off the stage boss: historically accurate, but with a modern interpretation.

Boring fries

Also, there's fries. They're good fries, but they're standard fries. Like McDonald's fries. Which is actually probably the highest praise I can give considering my love for McDonald's fries. There's nothing that'll make these stand out, no duck-fat rendered crunch, no ginger ketchup condiment pairing, just plain old fries. Nothing to detract to detract from the burger, this is likely the best thing they could've trotted out on the plate. Again, bang up work Fishbar.

Anyway, I'm not sure what I'm trying to convince you of here. When I started writing this post three days ago, I think I was annoyed at Lance Armstrong for being a massive ass-schnozzle in his interview. Then I forgot about it somewhat and had to tie it into a burger. Then I got angry at how burgers are now bastardized with everything short of ape shit. Then I got mildly aroused reliving the Lure burger. So I'll end things here in cliff-hanger fashion.

tl;dr - I have ADD and can't finish a single post with a cohesive theme. Lure Fishbar makes a really good plain cheeseburger, which is awesome, because everyone else seems to be focusing on making ass-clown burgers with 50 ingredients piled on top. Something about Lance Armstrong too.

Lure Fishbar
142 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10012


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Best things I've had in my mouth (2012 edition)

CA Googleplex

This photo is unrelated to anything. I wish there really were a giant sized ice cream sandwich though...

Since I took ass-clown forever to write this post, I'm about two weeks too late to jump on the 'Best of' hash tag bandwagon. So just consider this a preview of posts yet to come... since I'm as backed up on posts as a geriatric who's lost their Metamucil. Anyway, as most of you are probably aware of, I did a pretty shit-tastic job of blogging this year. I'll admit it... my blog was about as successful as Betty White is sexy i.e. occasionally, but totally by accident. I posted maybe once a month and I have a backlog of unedited photos longer than one of Conan the Barbarian's legendary ass-hairs. That's not to say I didn't eat a metric ass-load of food (that's a real measurement), and that's not to say I didn't have my share of "oh wow, this needs to be made known bites." I was just lazy. Sorry. Without further ado... here's a list of five things that I consumed in 2012 that either 1. made me "turn my tighty-whities into frownie brownies" or 2. made me smile from ear to ear.

For the record, these aren't in any sort of order. I just randomly think of these things when I'm on the toilet. Actually, I guess you could say they're in the order I thought about memorable meals while on the toilet. I don't think anyone wants to think of it that way though.

Soup dumpling

1. Soup Dumplings at Nan Xiang (南翔小籠包) - Shit son. I like pork buns and I cannot lie. You other brothas can't deny. When a bun comes in with pork broth taste and a thin skin in my face I get sprung. Maybe not everyone's not like me. Maybe pork meatballs surrounded by a soup-laden bubble of carbohydrates isn't your thing. I say this with all due respect, but go eat a bundle of dicks. That should be everyone's thing. There are few things more glorious than the engineering marvels that are soup dumplings - from the dangerously delicate wrapper to the extremely volatile soup and meat suspension - these things defy logic. They are impossible structures of culinary masterpiece as well as literal flavor bomb. Nowhere in NYC will you find a better version than the one at Nan Xiang. Just be thankful that almost every asshat you come across will tell you that Joe's Shanghai is the place to go... it ensures the wait time here is shorter. Also get the deep fried beef scallion pancakes. Ermahgerd worthy.

Cha-han fried rice

2. Chahan at Naruto Ramen - As an Asian person, it's not often that I'm excited by something as plain as fried rice. I feel like I'm probably setting back stereotypes decades by saying this, but fried rice is part of my culture, I feel like I understand its most intimate desires, how it wants to taste, how it wants to clog my arteries with every grain of oil coated rice, how it should... be. As something of a fried rice connoisseur (note: holy shit, I surprised myself by spelling that correctly on first go...) Naruto Ramen does some next level shit when they decided to add 'chahan' to their menu. There's nothing complex about what goes into that pile of glorious starch and oil, it's a simple fried rice with roast pork, narutomaki, and scallions and eggs to finish. What I couldn't have expected was the depth of flavor such a simple mix would have over high heat. Fried rice is hard to fuck up for sure, but it's also damn hard to get this good. I feel like a dumbass for writing about fried rice, but this is some seriously dangerous shiz. Worth the trip up to the UES alone, and worth eating on its own as a standalone meal. Their ramen is good, but there's simply no point. It's a waste of carbs.

Dat pork

3. Fried potstickers at Tasty Dumpling - Woops. I fucked up. I admit it. Last year I might've told you that Prosperity Dumpling was the undisputed king of the dollar dumpling stores in Chinatown. I stand by the statement that at five for $1, that deal is something spectacular, but something happened this year. Something changed about them. For the first time in my life, I will go against the prudent economic choice and tell you that the best dumplings (according to this idiot at least) are five for $1.25. Yes. Even at a 25% premium on price, I'm telling you that Tasty Dumpling's dumplings are indeed the tits when it comes to pockets of meat. I'll eventually explain the full logic behind this statement in a post down the road, but for now - I feel like the fact that I'm willing to pay that much more per dumpling should be proof enough of Tasty's quality.

Minca sio ramen

4. Sio Ramen from Minca - If you ask most people where the best Ramen in NYC is, you'll get a smattering of answers. Surely you'll hear Ippudo come up again and again, but honestly... waiting an hour plus for a bowl of noodles is pretty ridiculous in my opinion. Some will undoubtedly say Totto, Terakawa, or maybe Setagaya. I've been to all of them and as far as I'm concerned... none of their offerings can hold a candle to the sio ramen at Minca. Rich garlicy broth is mixed with springy noodles that stretch longer than a broken Stretch Armstrong doll. The crowning piece to this Pandora's box of flavor is the fact that they flame torch your bowl at the very end, bringing a slight and gentle charring to the char siu they lay delicately on top. The layer of rendered pork fat on top glistens in the soup acting as a mirror so you can see your own 'O-face' when you've taken your first bite.

Double-sized cake cut

5. (RIP) Cake cuts at Hong Cafe - Yeah, I'm cheating here. This shit doesn't exist anymore, but that doesn't diminish how wonderful it once was (during 2012). What was once the glorious Hon Cafe - not just a restaurant, but an institution of brilliance and efficiency and the best source of cake cuts in the city - is now a lame-ass over-priced joint called Mottzar Kitchen. What the fuck is a 'Mottzar' anyway? Once upon a time, Hon Cafe used to take its cosmetically challenged cake nubbins and would bag them up in an orphanage of sorts. They'd slap a $2 price tag on each bag, each special... full of unique defects, and sell them in the front window. Most people walked by, disgusted by the non-homogeneity of these bags of freak cakes. Not I. I saw their inner beauty. I knew that those non-symmetric rings of cream, sugar, and flour were just as good as their supermodel cousins, but at a fraction of the cost. I would make it a point to save these 'B+' cakes, discarded in a harsh Asian 'tiger-mom' world and save them - eating an entire bag with each sitting. Alas, they are no more. If someone has any leads on cake cuts... I will pay you a king's ransom for that knowledge.

So what's going to happen in 2013? I'll start blogging again. As much as I hate to admit it, I like to write, and I like getting in random internet arguments with strangers. Yes, to some degree I'm an attention whore. Aside from that? Maybe I'll use my recently discovered non-allergy to seafood and take it for a test drive. Maybe 2013 is the year of shrimp. Lots of shrimp. Less pork. Ha, unlikely. Realistically this year will be more of the same. More artery clogging, more catching up on posts, not enough money.

tl;dr - here's a bunch of things that I was uncomfortably excited to have in my mouth in 2012. Number 5 makes me sad. If someone can help me find cake cuts in Chinatown, you will be my new best friend. Or if you don't want to be my best friend... go eat a dick. Seriously though, tell me.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Non-Asians and dim sum (Nom Wah Tea Parlor)

Nom Wah storefront

There's that saying, that you should never judge a book by it's cover. Like Twilight... which has a stupid-ass cover, but holds the depths of literary achievement like the world has never seen or experienced before. Kidding... or am I? Anyway, I generally feel like if an Asian restaurant is being frequented by a plurality of non-Asian folk, I should probably mosey the fuck on outta there. Not that I don't like a good serving of General Tso's chicken - I just don't want that when I'm seeking on legit homestyle shiz. Now, I realize this isn't really a fair generalization (when are generalizations ever fair anyway?), as there are a handfull of non-Asian food bloggers who clearly know their shit when it comes to cuisine from the Far East, but this as a general rule is pretty good to follow. Sometimes... there are exceptions. Nom Wah is truly a case where the number of white people isn't indicative of how authentic the food actually is.

Just a few years ago, Nom Wah was a true hole-in-the-wall type dim sum joint where the old guy in the back cared more about playing mahjong than service. By no means am I suggesting this is an awesome customer service model, but goddamn it was some OG cuisine. I knew whatever that bro pimped from his kitchen would be delicious and of questionable preparation methods. That's the kind of place I'm all about. Turns out... not everyone likes that style of management. The original establishment basically ran itself into the ground. In order to stay afloat, some random young guy stepped in and breathed new life into Nom Wah i.e. it "sold out" and transformed into a hip English-friendly establishment. I should be outraged... I mean, this place traded Asian street cred on account of greed! Yet I'm not. Why?

Because some of their food is actually pretty dope.

Beef meatballs

At first glance these might appear to be normal beef meatballs, but if you thought that... then you've been Chuck Testa'd. These are some next-level shit meatballs with a tofu skin wrapping. I've never understood why, but dim sum meatballs all have a certain citrusy flavor infused. Anyway, their version were decent - and I did enjoy how elastic and chewy these were - but we didn't order them. Not sure if someone fucked up, but we didn't get our order of beef cheung-fun. I would be pretty pissed if these weren't ape-shit delicious.

Scallion pancakes

And some of these! I don't think anything I say about scallion pancakes is actually worth a fart (I guess you could argue that about anything I've written on my blog), but theirs weren't fantastic. It's not that they tasted bad or anything - they were hot, crispy, and as my ass-clown Korean friend in LA would say "it tastes like scallions" - they were just really generic. Almost like the ones you get from frozen packaging. To be fair, I ate most of them, probably with a shit-eating grin on my face the entire time, but I wasn't wowed. Let's put it this way... I could've stood up while wearing sweatpants because there'd be no boner to hide.

Deep-fried egg rolls

Their egg rolls are supposedly their signature dish... and I'd be lying if I said they didn't taste good. The problem here is honestly that I have no fucking clue what's inside of them. If you're expecting the "traditional" egg roll from an Americanized take-out joint - roast pork, lots of cabbage, lots of bean sprouts, and carrots - your mouth is going to hate you. I think there was hints of tofu, more than a couple slivers of mushroom, and possibly even egg (cray, I know), but I might be making that all up. The mish-mash of flavors simply works even if it is unmemorable as a whole. If you like knowing what you're putting in your mouth, then you should probably steer clear. If you're a tastebud slut who'd swallow anything without question - it's actually worth a try. Uh, for people who don't fall into either of those categories... you're on your own.


As an aside, do you know why I hate writing about dim sum? Never mind the fact that "all dim sum is good dim sum" to me. Look at the turnip cake above. Looks delicious right? Fuck yeah it does. All crispy and Maillard reaction'd up. The problem is, it's the same as every other dim sum place. It's a block of gelatinous turnip that's pan fried. No one can screw that up. No one. Not even me. I've made that shit before and it was premium. You wouldn't it was from Nom Wah if it weren't for that tacky-ass table spread. Whatever, end rant. Their turnip cake was good.

Deep-fried rib tips

Not sure why we bought a giant plate of fried meat, but you really don't need a good reason to ever do that. Nom Wah's deep-fried rib tips are confusing to me. Most spare-rib tips are drenched in a sauce comprised of soy, honey, and maltose syrup - so their unadulterated offering just feels... wrong? But it's not. It's eerily reminiscent of salt & pepper chicken (if you're Taiwanese, you know what I mean, otherwise - think of popcorn chicken that's seasoned with pepper beyond belief), and offers up a reasonably flavorful bite of fat and crispy pork. None of that sounds bad. Unless you're vegetarian, you should at least try it.

Sticky rice

Oh look, it's sticky rice with strips of egg. I don't like ordering this shit at dim sum. You know why? Two reasons... I always feel like my OG grandmother could make a better version at home and in larger quantity, and also because I feel like it's a waste of carb real estate that can be saved for better things. Better things like...

Giant roast pork buns

Giant buns of roast pork. If I were in charge of the cafeteria at my office, every meal would begin, and end, with a roast pork bun. While I can safely say nothing else at Nom Wah truly makes me 'moist,' they fuckin' kill it on this one. Considering how many places you can get this shit, that's high praise. Their offering is a huge bitch - with a bun the size of a small plate and stuffed to the gills with deliciously fatty cancer pork. Also, it's pretty cheap... so my two real scoring criteria are both fulfilled.

I feel like I've come full circle with this post. I can't find it now... but I vaguely writing a post in which I basically said that an Asian restaurant full of white people was the ultimate red flag in bootleg. That it basically meant I should run far and fast away from the land of lo mein and egg rolls. With Nom Wah - while it's certainly not the pinnacle of... well, anything - I've realized that isn't 100% canon. There are lots of non-Asians inside, and their food is actually pretty decent. Where am I going with this? I'm not sure. I should probably stop being prejudiced now.

tl;dr - Nom Wah sold out big time, now caters to tourists and non-Asians. Someone made me go, and I've seen the light. Their food is not bad. Their roast pork bun is arguably great. I'd go back, but probably not make it a destination.

Nom Wah
13 Doyers Street, New York, NY 10013